Benton Harbor wins Class B state title

EAST LANSING — Carlos Johnson knew it was good when it left his hand. His Benton Harbor coaches and teammates knew it, too.

The star sophomore hit the biggest shot on a Saturday night full of them — a 3-pointer with 10 seconds to play — to give the Tigers a 65-64 overtime win against Grand Rapids Catholic Central in the Class B championship game.

As the final seconds expired, the northwest corner of Breslin Center began celebrating Benton Harbor’s first MHSAA boys basketball title since 1965.

“I was hoping (senior Elijah Baxter) would get me the ball for the last one,” Johnson said. “I passed it to him, and I was like, ‘Oh, I hope he passes it back.’ I was ready for the shot, and I knew it was gonna go in. I was just thinking to go for the kill the whole time. When it left my hand, my eyes lit up and I said, ‘Oh, that’s going in. Straight water.’”

The shot, and an ensuing, frantic defensive stop, sent the Benton Harbor bench and cheering section into hysterics as they celebrated a long awaited return to glory for a program that was among the state’s most dominant more than a half century ago.

It was a history the Tigers embraced, wearing shirts for warm-ups that read, “Farnum Boyz” an homage to their gymnasium and its namesake, former Benton Harbor coach Don Farnum, who led the team to back-to-back titles in 1964 and 1965.

“It means a lot to the program, it means a lot to the school system, and it means a lot to the city,” Benton Harbor coach Corey Sterling said. “This is going to bring us together, this community. Everything is going to go forward now, thanks to these awesome guys right here. They brought the city back. We’re going to go forward from now on and stay positive with one another.”

While a star sophomore led the way with 24 points, 11 rebounds and the game-winning shot, Benton Harbor is otherwise a senior-dominated team, with five playing a major role. And those seniors had been pointing to winning this title since they were in eighth grade – the last time the Tigers made the Class B Final and came up just short in 2014.

Paul Costanzo writes for the MHSAA’s Second Half.

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